Use your Air Force heritage

COLUMBUS AFB, Miss. -- During my visit to the Marine Corps base at Quantico last year, I complimented their commander on the Marines' use of history. In everything from artwork to the structure of their training programs, they wove in their heritage in an inspiring, pride-building manner. His response surprised me: "The Air Force has great heritage, you just don't use it." These words have rung in my mind ever since. 

There is no doubt we have great heritage. How could any organization pack more pivotal history, innovation and courageous leadership into more than 100 years since the first aircraft flew than the US Air Force? We were born of the technology of flight, spaceflight and network communications, we continue to innovate at a blinding pace and we set the standard for operational excellence while taking care of our Airmen like they are family. This is a full plate! In fact, it may be these very facts that somehow get in the way of our celebration of heritage -- the courageous Airmen and leaders and the historical settings in which they built our Air Force. But never forget that our Airmen that did all of these things, not an aircraft or spacecraft, and only our Airmen will take us to the future. 

So why spend precious time on heritage? There is a saying that history which is forgotten tends to repeat itself. In technical disciplines such as engineering, there is little argument that one must master the basics and understand the current state of the art before expecting to invent the future. As Airmen, we must each build the same foundation, regardless of our specialty, to learn how past Airmen have adapted and overcome the challenges of history that they faced in their time. This foundation is essential for us to advance the state of the art in air, space, and cyberspace. We owe this to America. We cannot afford to repeat past mistakes or fail to learn valuable lessons and discoveries from the experiences of others. 

That's why the 14th Flying Training Wing launched a heritage campaign that aligns with the Air Force's "Heritage to Horizons" 60th anniversary celebration and Columbus AFB's own 65th anniversary. The basic approach is to surround ourselves with heritage. We will rename our buildings and streets to celebrate historic Columbus and Air Force leaders. This includes officer and enlisted aviators, aces, Airmen missing in action and prisoners of war, historic engineers and civilian leaders and contractors who have made our base what it is. We will celebrate this heritage of people and events with artwork, new base facilities and decor, ceremonies, a new book, a wing commander and command chief reunion, our 65th Anniversary Ball and even a scout camporee. All of these events will bring visibility to the incredible heritage in and around Columbus AFB. There is something for everyone to share! 

Reconnect with this very visible past! Families who know their genealogy -- their family roots -- have a special feeling of tightness from a shared and known experiences and ancestors. As Airmen, knowing our Air Force and Columbus pedigree educates us, raises our expectations for ourselves and our squadrons, binds us together and provides us the confidence of an unseen wingman whose advice we subconsciously rely on during both good and challenging times. 

Bring this heritage alive in your life and service! I read an excellent book, "The First Air War," about fledgling airpower in World War I. As I read it, I had to smile, because so much early squadron culture was remarkably similar to the culture of Air Force squadrons I had been in over 70 years later. In a way, we all add to our heritage. If you realize this, you will enjoy and appreciate the journey, not just the destination, for we are the luckiest of people to serve with today's Airmen along side us, in outstanding organizations, and yes, using the world's finest equipment. Our heritage is not just a neat story of rare exploits in historic situations, those exploits are useful because they continue to take place today if we pay attention. 

Do your part to tell the story. Everyone stands a little more proud when they reflect on the amazing process they had to go through to earn the title "Airman" and serve their nation as they do. You met high standards in numerous demanding training programs, moved frequently, deployed, faced combat, raised families, and built your Air Force. But as an Airman, you also inherit everything that is rolled into the meaning of "Airman." Learn it, reconnect with it and bring it alive in your own manner, and tell the story. As you make history today, remember that you stand shoulder to shoulder with the Airmen of past generations.